How the Russians and Ukrainians use their Su-25 Flying tanks

The Su-25 has excellent manoeuvrability, allowing it to manoeuvre effectively over the battlefield and avoid hostile fire.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The Soviet Union developed the Su-25 aircraft in the 1970s to support ground forces. 1975 marked the first flight of the plane. Subsequently, the aircraft underwent numerous modifications and was used in multiple conflicts, such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Iraq. More than 30 nations continue to operate the Su-25, making it one of the most popular attack aircraft globally. 

The primary features of the Su-25

The attack aircraft’s ammunition is suspended from ten hard points. The aircraft’s combat load is 4.4 tons, its range with a full load is 1250 kilometres, and its top speed is 970 kilometres per hour. The empty weight is about 9,800 kg, the gross weight is approximately 14,440 kg, and the maximum launch weight is roughly 19,300 kg.

Its arsenal includes:

  • Air cannons.
  • Air explosives of various calibres and purposes.
  • Guided and unguided air-to-ground missiles.
  • Guided air-to-air missiles.

Thirty-two different types of weaponry can be mounted on the attack aircraft.

The assault aircraft is equipped with a double-barrelled 30-mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSH-30-2 air cannon constructed according to the Gast design (gun designed by Karl Gast of Vorwerk und Companie of Barmen). The gun is designed to defeat armoured vehicles, openly located hostile personnel, and medium- and close-range air targets.

The Su-25 is a highly manoeuvrable aircraft that can rapidly change direction, avoid enemy missiles, and execute pinpoint strikes. The plane has numerous defence systems that enable it to survive combat. 

Su-25 Protection System

The Su-25 attack aircraft is equipped with various safety systems that contribute to protecting the plane and the pilot in combat conditions. 7.2% of the typical takeoff weight is comprised of combat survivability systems. The primary security systems include: 

  • An electronic countermining system that protects aircraft from hostile missiles by emitting electromagnetic signals that interfere with missile guidance systems.
  • An infrared protection system that protects against enemy thermal missiles by emitting thermal signals that mask the aircraft’s thermal signature; 
  • Armouring the cockpit, which protects the pilot from balls and projectiles that can strike the plane; 
  • An active and passive information processing system that assists in identifying and responding to threats that may arise during hostilities.

Given all of this, the Su-25 attack aircraft is a reasonably well-protected aircraft that can operate in hostile environments with a high threat level.

Key benefits of the Su-25

The Su-25 has excellent manoeuvrability, allowing it to manoeuvre effectively over the battlefield and avoid hostile fire. The Su-25’s speed enables the pilot to arrive swiftly at the battlefield and provide timely support. The Su-25 effectively provides fire support on the ground due to its armament and capacity to carry many weapons.

The Su-25 can operate in various climatic conditions and terrain types, allowing it to conduct missions in different combat zones. The attack aircraft is easily maintainable, allowing repairs and maintenance in combat conditions.

What is known about the Su-25 in Ukrainian service?

The exact quantity of attack aircraft in Ukraine is unknown. Ukraine received approximately 90-95 Su-25 aircraft after achieving independence, of which 76 were in various conditions, and the remainder were mothballed.

According to FlightGlobal’s World Air Forces 2022 guide, the Ukrainian Armed Forces possessed only 17 Su-25 attack aircraft as of 2021. According to the Military Balance directory for 2021, the Ukrainian Air Force had 31 of these aircraft. The Su-25 made its first combat appearance in Ukraine on May 26, 2015, during the assaults on the Donetsk airport.

In 2015, the modernised Su-25M1K attack aircraft was adopted by the Air Force of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It was developed based on another modernisation, the Su-25M1, which the Ukrainian military received for the first time in 2010, and is distinguished by the implementation of the Adros protection system. This system substantially improves the aircraft’s defence against heat-guided missiles. The modernised attack aircraft received a new sight; instead of the analogue Soviet production, an integrated sighting and navigation system ASP-17BTs-8M2 was mounted on the plane. Additionally, a variety of equipment is installed.

Ukrainians have used this aircraft sparingly and have lost approximately 11 of them, compared to about 38 by the Russians.

What is known about the Su-25 in the Russian service?

Russia had 197 Su-25 assault aircraft before the Ukraine war. The Russian Aerospace Forces are using a significantly modernised variant, the Su-25SM3. The upgraded Su-25SM3 features upgraded avionics, new navigation and control instruments, an enhanced fire control system, and new armament options, among other improvements. Additionally, the Su-25SM3 is equipped with a more powerful engine, allowing it to transport more weight and improving the aircraft’s speed and manoeuvrability. In Russia, it is called Sukhoi Su-25 Grach (NATO name Frog foot).

According to the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense, Su-25 pilots fly at exceptionally low altitudes, reducing the likelihood of their detection and destruction by air defence systems. The approach to the combat launch line is conducted at top velocities.

Attack aircraft discharge unguided aircraft rockets (NAR) and immediately engage in an anti-aircraft manoeuvre by firing heat traps. The Su-25s conduct repeated approaches to the target before returning to the airfield.

According to the Ministry of Defense, the aircraft extensively employs the S-13 Tulumbas NAR 122 mm. This ammunition can penetrate fortified and concrete structures, command posts, concentrations of armoured vehicles, and runways.

As per a recent interview with a Su-25 pilot by Ria Novosti, adhering to the requirements that have been defined, attack aircraft in the special operation zone function efficiently and can hit their targets with pinpoint accuracy; the Russian pilots use several missiles, including the S-8, S-13, S-24, and S-25. Subject to all the critical parameters, the rockets land perfectly on target.

The aircraft has remarkable capabilities regarding its ability to survive. The Su-25 that had been shot down was still able to land safely on the airfield, despite having sustained damage from a missile that had been fired by a portable anti-aircraft missile system.

During the course of the special operations, Ukrainian forces made numerous attempts to shoot down the plane using MANPADS and rockets; however, the plane’s engines remained functioning, and its pilots were able to safely return to the ground with their aircraft in working order.

Multiple daily sorties are conducted by ground attack aircraft within the special operation zone.

A pilot told Ria Novosti that he had flown 180 sorties since September 2022. Over 20,000 sorties of attack aircraft have been flown by each of the participating regiments since the commencement of the special military operation.


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